Rodrigo y Gabriela, Heather Maloney
7:30 p.m. Sunday at Iroquois Amphitheater, 1080 Amphitheater Rd. in Louisville. $35-$40. (502) 368-5865. Iroquoisamphitheater.com.
"My fingers are bleeding," David Letterman shouted last week near the end of the Tuesday taping of The Late Show. No, the soon-to-retire comedian wasn't making a joke at his or anyone else's expense. The exclamation was simply the most immediate response he could offer to the four preceding minutes that Rodrigo y Gabriela used to tear through The Soundmaker, the leadoff tune to the guitar duo's newest and arguably finest album, 9 Dead Alive.
Letterman needn't have sounded so surprised by the remarkable contrasts in the music — specifically, the way it stresses dramatically textured compositions with a joyous performance profile as well as its blending of seemingly disparate elements of classical and flamenco with accents of metal and arena rock. After all, it was on The Late Show that Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero made their network television debut in 2008.
The success story of Rodrigo y Gabriela — Rod y Gab, to their fans — is as unlikely as their music. Natives of Mexico City, they initially became infatuated with guitar music by playing thrash metal and soaking up albums by Megadeth and early Metallica. The duo modified the music's volume but not its aggressive spirit into a double acoustic guitar format. While Mexican hotel lounges were among their first concert bookings, the two honed their sound, which began taking on elements of folk and classical, while busking on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. An international buzz ensued.
A clear but complementary distinction began to take shape as well with the performance styles and responsibilities of Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Sanchez handles the leads with a fingerpicking technique that can summon the drive for the anthemic rock explorations (the duo covered Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven and Metallica's Orion on its self-titled sophomore album in 2006) along with the finesse necessary to convey the more reflective construction of its Mexican/Spanish- leaning works (represented beautifully on 9 Dead Alive by Somnium).
Quintero gives the duo's music its pulse. Predominantly a rhythm player, she essentially doubles as a percussionist by slapping the strings on her instrument as if it were a hand drum. The style has come with a cost, though. The duo curtailed touring for a time beginning in 2010 to give Quintero's hands time to heal from stress injuries.
Released in April, 9 Dead Alive is a return to form for Rodrigo y Gabriela. Though promoted as its first album in five years, the players collaborated with the Cuban ensemble C.U.B.A. for the salsa-inspired Area 52 in 2012. Also, the duo's third concert record in seven years, Live in France, as well as contributions to Hans Zimmer's score for Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides, were released within two months of each other in 2011. The duo's last official studio effort, 2009's 11:11 sported help from guests who included metal/jazz guitarist Alex Skolnick.
But 9 Dead Alive shunts aside collaborations in favor of music composed, produced and performed exclusively by the duo. While traces of the players' metal-esque pasts surface in the rhythms of The Russian Messenger, the record uses double guitar acoustics to explore the duo's most comprehensive overview of Latin fusion inspirations — from the breezy flamenco accents colored with almost poppish intent on Misty Moses to the speed, groove and sheer drama that made Letterman feel as though his own fingers were bleeding on The Soundmaker.
Rodrigo y Gabriela will place all of this under the summer twilight with a Sunday performance at Iroquois Amphitheater in Louisville. Singer- songwriter Heather Maloney will open.
Walter Tunis is a Lexington-based music writer.